Police officers secretly trained by animal rights group to enforce hunt ban

Cumbria police force has been given secret training in how to enforce the hunting ban by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which donated more than £1 million to the Labour Party.

By Andrew Pierce

The disclosure that Cumbria Police were coached by activists from the animal rights group has triggered fury among hunt supporters.

The IFAW set up the Political Animal Lobby which gave £1 million to the Labour Party before the 1997 election because it was committed to banning hunting. It donated a further £147,000 after the election.

The admission of the links between Cumbria Police and IFAW came after a Freedom of Information request by the Countryside Alliance. The FOI trawl revealed that Thames Valley Police underwent similar training with the League Against Cruel Sports.

Since the ban came into effect in February 2005 some 325 registered hunts in England and Wales have carried out 70,000 hunting days. Hunts are able to hunt legally by either laying a scent for hounds to follow or by using a pack to flush a fox or another mammal to a bird of prey.

With rural police forces reluctant to devote scarce resources to policing hunts, animal rights campaigners have acted as "monitors" to try to gather evidence that foxes are being hunted and killed illegally.

In Cumbria the Blencathra hunt, one of the oldest in the country, has regularly been followed by police. The fact the officers were trained by IFAW was confirmed in a letter written by Superintendent Ted Thwaites of Cumbria Police who said: "We have always maintained to both sides of the debate that we will deal robustly with any reported breaches of the Act.

"It quickly became clear that with a few exceptions our officers were unlikely to fully understand the evidence that was presented to them by monitors, so IFAW were engaged to provide a day of training to selected officers."

Kate Hoey, the Labour MP and chairman of the Countryside Alliance, has written to Craig Mackey, the Chief Constable of Cumbria, to raise concern about the involvement of animal rights activists in 'training' their officers.

"You may not be aware that IFAW is a profit-making limited company, not a charity. IFAW has always been completely opposed to hunting and its offshoot the Political Animal Lobby has been responsible for over £1 million in political donations in support of the anti-hunting campaign," she wrote.

"The idea that this is a suitable organisation to provide "training" for your officers on issues relating to hunting and the Hunting Act is extraordinary.

"I also understand that there has been a significant change in the policing of hunting since the "training" took place. Serious concerns about the change in attitude of Cumbria Constabulary towards hunts in the area and the behaviour of officers on hunting days have been raised with us this season.

"The hunts and wider rural community in Cumbria would, quite rightly, be as shocked as I am that Cumbria Police has been working with animal rights activists."

In a statement Cumbria's Chief Constable Craig Mackey said they had liased with all interested parties in the hunting debate. "The briefings provided by the IFAW were an extension of this learning process and other police forces have received identical input. The views of the IFAW inform our approach; they do not direct them," he said.

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